Jan 23/12

Have you seen this man?

His name is Jim Gray. He is a famous, very accomplished computer programmer who last worked for Microsoft. From the late seventies onwards he worked in database development and large-scale computing. Such inventions as the cash machine, and online transactions - he helped make them possible.

On January 28, 2007, he left in his sailboat for the Farallon Islands, near San Fran, to scatter his mother's ashes at sea. In spite of clear weather and no distress calls being received from him, he disappeared that day without a trace.

Numerous theories on how he could have disappeared - both accidentally and, possibly, on purpose - have been considered. With absolutely no evidence of either, the search continues: some believe he is alive.

Most pictures I've seen show him wearing glasses. I usually don't include accessories in my drawings, so I drew him without. Besides: if he still is alive, he may well not be wearing them any more.

We can only speculate on the disappearance of this great mind.

Sources: Wired Magazine and Wikipedia.

Jim Gray missing computer scientist Home

Jan 25/12

Jack Cafferty

If you watch CNN's Situation Room hosted by Wolf Blitzer, you know Jack Cafferty. He's a cynical-sounding contributor who raises questions about the news and what it might mean. Listeners are invited to reply by posting comments on his blog or the Situation Room Facebook page. Later, he appears again to read some of the responses. The next hour, he starts the process again with a new question.

I say Jack "sounds" cynical because actually, he's not. The news items he discusses often point to the serious problems Americans are facing every day. A few comfortable people may be able to overlook America's troubles, but the working class can't ignore them.

Jack raises a topic and starts talking about it generally, but over a couple of minutes works it to a fine point. Often the question he ends up asking is a surprise. The responses he reads out later reflect the wide range of people's opinions. Jack may not be cynical, but some of the responses are. Clearly America is a divided nation in many senses. From the answers Jack reads out, one divide is clear: some Americans are still hopeful about the future, while others are much more pessimistic.

If Americans are going to finally tackle the daunting problems of the national deficit and debt, unemployment, and retirement funding, they'll have to start talking seriously about them. Jack's questions are getting people talking, at least.

Keep up the good work, Jack!

Jack Cafferty CNN Home

Jan 26/12

The Great Helmsman

Mao Zedong, aka Mao Tse-tung, was the revolutionary commander who led China from feudalism to Communism. He began as the son of a poor peasant who (ironically, from a communist point of view) got rich.

Mao identified the need for revolution in that the Chinese government ruled by oppressing the poor - either directly, or else by protecting the feudal landlords. He recognized that in China, peasants had to carry the revolution, since they vastly outnumbered the industrial workers. Furthermore, the revolution could not succeed through peaceable means, since the government was armed and prepared to subdue revolutionary activity.

Though he had some early failures, Mao eventually raised and trained an army of 45 000 - bolstered by a further peasant militia of around 200 000 - that protected a communist region from more than a million government troops in the early 1930s. However, by 1934, the position was encircled. The Communist army had no choice but to retreat - the famous Long March, which only ten percent of the army survived.

For the most part, Mao kept his Communist army out of the Sino-Japanese War, which seriously weakened the government army. Throughout 1949, Mao cleared away the government's armed resistance to his revolution. On October 1, 1949, Mao declared the People's Republic of China, stating "The Chinese People have stood up."

After taking power, Mao set to work on land reform. The landlords' holdings were seized and parted out to the peasants, finally freeing them after 2 000 years of the feudal system. In a fascinating twist, the members of landlord families often received parcels of land to farm alongside the peasants.

Mao, it seems, was overwhelmed by the task of governing China. I think this is understandable: it grew from 550 to 900 million people under his stewardship. His first Five Year Plan worked reasonably well - its aim was to industrialize China and end its dependence on the USSR. However, Mao's Great Leap Forward was tremendously damaging to China, and his Cultural Revolution is very controversial. I think there is no doubt that Mao was a better revolutionary than he was a governor.

Whatever crimes Mao committed, he was a flexible thinker and, in fact, an idealist - at least when he was in the field. Mao realized that Lenin's type of communism would not work in China, so he developed Maoism. Today, revolutionaries generally prefer Maoism to Leninism. Furthermore, Mao won China because his armies treated the civilians better than the government troops did. Mao respected the peasants in a way that no one else in power, it seems, can manage. That's how he won China.

The essence of Maoist philosophy centers around a self-sufficient village. Faced with carbon footprints and pricey oil, we are proposing self-sufficiency today in North America. We have arrived at Mao's basic premise, from a totally different reference frame. When one solution sits at a crossroads of two totally different ways of life, you have to believe there's some validity there.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, and Wikipedia.

Chairman Mao Zedong Home